This isn’t really a review. I already did a rather big write-up on this film a while back, wherein I gushed all over it. I love this movie. This is basically just a quick little blog post to let people know how much I really enjoyed the newly-released extended cut.
Back in 1982 when this film hit TV, they turned it into a big two-night event, a complete turnaround from the days when the studios had no faith in the picture as it was being made. The way they covered it, the Salkinds (the producers) bypassed director Richard Donner and re-edited a ton of cutting room floor footage back into the film into a 3-hour cut, plus credits, so it ended up being 4 hours on TV. Contrast this with the 2 hours, 23 minutes of the theatrical version, restored as the director’s cut after home video whittled it down to 2 hours, 7 minutes due to the lack of long play VHS tapes.
I won’t sit here and tell you the extended cut is a superior film to the director’s own vision. It’s not. Any fool can see that. But there are reasons a fan like myself would want to experience this version. Most notably, the extra footage. Some of it is tiny, extended scenes. Seems to make little difference, until you know how heavily (and badly) edited some of these scenes were, especially on VHS where words would be cut off or whatever. Some of the new footage consists of entirely new scenes. There aren’t many of these as giant set sequences, but they are wonderful to see after nearly 40 years. We’re talking nearly 45 minutes of unseen footage. An extra 4 minutes would drive a lot of fans to tears. This is incredible.
Probably the biggest fix for me was the soundtrack. I know the John Williams score for this film backwards and forwards as I do for Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are different music edits in the theatrical and VHS versions from what’s on the fully completed score album (which of course I own). The extended cut utilizes the score as originally written, complete and uncut. I can see / hear why certain changes were made in conjunction with the picture itself, and I don’t fault Donner for making the choices he did. It serves perfectly. But for this… I’d never turn down an opportunity to hear the score as Williams wrote it. That’s only been done one other time without editing in the history of cinema so far as I know: E.T. That film was edited around the music because Spielberg loved what he heard and knew the music would drive whatever he put on screen.
I realize there are a lot of people, especially the current generation, that would laugh at what’s in this movie. It’s dated visually, yes. Some of the screen logic is anything but logical. But character and story absolutely stands up against anything WB/DC is releasing today. I see it for what it is, warts and all, and the only thing I still have a solid gripe about is the opening shot with the wrong comic book cover. Even then, I sort of understand the old school sci-fi feel they were going for, and it does maximize the impact when you see Chris Reeve in the cape for the first time since there is no previous imagery of it. That’s the only thing I can figure as to why they’d change that. But it makes me realize that all the nitpicking in the world doesn’t make this a bad movie. The character work is the heart of the film. It’s why this one endures. So if you’re a fan and you get the chance to see this extended cut, it’s definitely worth your time. It’s more of what you already expect, and while some things are better in the theatrical in terms of pacing, this is more like wandering nostalgia. At least, it is for me.